If I consider my life honestly, I see that it is governed by a certain very small number of patterns of events which I take part in over and over again.Being in bed, having a shower, having breakfast in the kitchen, sitting in my study writing, walking in the garden, cooking and eating our common lunch at my office with our friends, going to the movies, taking my family to eat at a restaurant, having a drink at a friend’s house, driving on the freeway, going to bed again. There are a few more.
There are surprisingly few of these patterns of events in any one person’s way of life, perhaps no more than a dozen. Look at your own life and you will find the same. It is shocking at first, to see that there are so few patterns of events open to me.
Not that I want any more of them. But when I see how very few of them there are, I begin to understand what huge effect these few patterns have on my life, on my capacity to live. If these few patterns are good for me, I can live well. If they are bad for me, I can’t.
Of course, the standard patterns of events vary very much from person to person, and from culture to culture.
For a teenage boy, at a high school in Los Angeles, his situations include hanging out in the corridor with other boys; watching television, sitting in a car with his girlfriend at a drive-in restaurant eating coke and hamburgers. For an old woman, in a European mountain village, her situations include scrubbing her front doorstep, lighting a candle in the local church, stopping at the market to buy fresh vegetables, walking five miles across the mountains to visit her grandson.
But each town, each neighborhood, each building, has a particular set of these patterns of events according to its prevailing culture.
A person can modify his immediate situations. He can move, change his life, and so on. In exceptional cases he can even change them almost wholly. But it is not possible to go beyond the bounds of the collection of events and pattern of events which our culture makes available.
We have a glimpse, then, of the fact that our world has a structure, in the simple fact that certain patterns of events–both human and nonhuman–keep repeating, and account, essentially, for much the greater part of the events which happen there.
Our individual lives are made from them…so are our lives together…they are the rules, through which our culture maintains itself, keeps itself alive, and it is by building our lives, out of these patterns of events, that we are people of our culture.
Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building
After I read this I listed my patterns on two Post-Its. The scale of my life is described by the circles I stir in my porridge.
What are your patterns? Do you live well?